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10 summer driving hazards to avoid

Summer driving has its own set of challenges whether you’re on home ground or not. High temperatures, increased stress levels, and extra demands on your car are all par for the course, so make sure you read our advice to stay safe on the road.

Wet or lost key fobs

It’s easy to lose your car keys in the sand, or ruin your remote control with water by accidentally taking the fob for a swim.

Keep your keys safe and dry and check your handbook – on most cars, there’s an alternative way to open the doors that you can use if the remote stopped working.

If you do need a replacement car key or key fob, call AA Keycare on 0818 646 004. Our specialist service means you’ll have access to a nationwide network of locksmiths.

Punctures

If your tyres are already damaged or they’re at the wrong pressure, the higher temperatures of summer will increase the risk of a blowout.

Make sure you check tyres regularly – for condition and pressures – and increase pressures to suit extra loads, as advised in your handbook.

Check caravan tyres too, and replace those that show any signs of cracking in the sidewall or tread grooves.

Overheating

When driving in hot climates, high temperatures can aggravate cooling system problems too. It’s important to check the coolant and cooling system regularly to avoid overheating.

Glare

Dazzle from the sun causes lots of accidents but you can reduce the effect by keeping your windscreen nice and clean, and by replacing worn or damaged windscreen wipers.

It pays to keep a clean pair of sunglasses in your car year-round but avoid lenses that darken in strong sunlight.

Driving tired

If you feel tired, stop and take a short nap (up to 15 minutes) or drink two cups of strong coffee.

It’s best to avoid getting tired in the first place if you can. These tips can help:

  • Include a 20-minute break in journeys of more than 3 hours
  • On longer trips, take a break every couple of hours
  • You’re better off taking several short (at least 20 minutes) stops than one long one
  • Don’t drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal before driving
  • Don’t stop for a nap on the hard shoulder, and make sure you check parking restrictions before putting your head down at a motorway service area as you could get a ticket for overstaying your welcome.

Hayfever

If your hayfever is particularly bad, it’s best to get someone else to drive if you can. Also:

  • Make sure any medication you’re taking doesn’t cause drowsiness
  • Close windows and air vents to reduce pollen grains in the car
  • Clean mats and carpets regularly to get rid of dust
  • Keep tissues close to hand
  • Wear sunglasses to block out bright sunlight

Loose chippings

Roads repaired with tar and loose chippings are a common sight in the summer but they can cause cracked headlamps and windscreens, and damage paintwork if you’re not careful. Stick to any temporary speed limit that’s been put in place and keep your distance from the car in front.

Fire

If you’re a smoker, don’t just throw your cigarette out of the window when you’ve finished it. Verges and embankments can become bone-dry and a smouldering cigarette may be enough to ignite roadside grass.

Tractors

The driver of that slow-moving tractor in front of you may have a soundproofed cab or could be wearing ear protectors, so may not be able to hear approaching cars.

Be aware that tractors only have to have brake or indicator lights if driving at night, so they may stop or turn suddenly and without warning in daylight hours.

When you’re driving in the countryside:

  • Keep plenty of distance behind a tractor
  • Remember that a tractor may be longer than it appears – there could be a loader on the front
  • Before overtaking, make sure you have plenty of room to get past

Avoid a breakdown this summer

  • Slow down if you come across a spillage – if you hit a bale of straw at speed you will damage your car
  • Don’t park in a gateway or passing place – they are farmers’ field access points
  • Drive extra carefully after rain, which can turn dry mud into a skid pan
  • And don’t forget that if you do experience a breakdown AA Rescue fixes 8 out of 10 vehicles on the spot. Meanwhile, if you’re planning to drive across Europe this summer, remember that with AA European Breakdown Cover local garages across our European road network will be on standby should you experience any bumps on the road.

Looking for ways to keep your driving costs down ahead of the summer? With AA Car Insurance you can receive an automatic €100 discount on any policy purchased online.

Categories
Europe France

Driving in France

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Whether you’re heading for the Eiffel Tour, the chateaux of the Loire Valley or the beaches of the Côte d’Azur, here are some helpful tips if you are considering bringing your car or hiring one when you arrive in France.

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Autoroutes in France are dotted with numerous tolls which can add up, particularly on a long journey, so it pays to do your research before you go. The costs vary but as a rule of thumb it’s about 7-10 cent per kilometre travelled in a car, and you can add half as much again if you are towing a caravan. Figures below correct as of 10/1/18, taken from here.

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Journey Car Car towing trailer/caravan Distance in Kilometers
Bordeaux to Paris € 55.10 € 85.60 641km
Lille to Paris € 16.30 € 23.40 225km
Bordeaux to Toulouse € 19.60 € 31.40 245km
Lyon to Paris (A6) € 34.10 € 53.30 466km
Marseille to Paris € 58.80 € 92.60 744km
Nantes to Bordeaux € 29.20 € 44.70 346km
Nantes to Paris € 36.60 € 56.70 384.6km
Rennes to Paris € 28.80 € 44.30 348.8km
Toulouse to Paris (A20) € 36.00 € 55.70 683.5km

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Tolls can be paid in cash or with Eurocard, Mastercard or Visa. Maestro and Electron debit cards are not accepted.

There are alternative non-tolled routes in France that are very easy to drive on (similar to dual-carriageways). You can locate these routes by selecting the “show routes without tolls” option on AA Routeplanner.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”LEGAL REQUIREMENTS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]French authorities are quite stringent on all motorists carrying the correct documents and compulsory equipment when driving. These include a warning triangle, headlamp converter and a reflective jacket. The jacket must be kept within the passenger compartment of the vehicle and be put on before exiting the vehicle in an emergency/breakdown situation.

It is absolutely prohibited to carry, transport or use radar detectors. Anyone who does risks a fine of up to €1,500 and confiscation of their vehicle and/or device.

In January 2013, the French government announced that the enforcement of the law requiring drivers to carry a breathalyser has been postponed indefinitely. So while you are theoretically still required to carry a self-test breathalyser when driving in France, no fines are being issued for non-compliance.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”PENALTIES” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

Be warned that some French police are authorised to impose and collect on-the-spot traffic fines of up to €375. French traffic police take their job very seriously so your Irish charm is not likely to work on them!

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CAR RENTAL ADVICE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Avis, Europcar, Hertz, Budget and Sixt have branches at most major towns all over France. Keep an eye on their websites or your airline’s website as they may offer good deals or discounts.

Car rental companies in France are required to provide basic liability insurance to renters for the duration of their trip. However, collision damage waivers vary from company to company so check with yours in advance.

Don’t forget, if you’re an AA customer, you get to up to 10% off and add an additional driver for free with Enterprise, Alamo and National Car Rental, our AA Rewards partner. To get a quote or book click here.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_accordion style=”accordion”][vc_accordion_tab title=”Damage”][vc_column_text]

Check the car for damage with an employee from the car rental company before signing a rental agreement, and again when the vehicle is returned. Have the damage-free condition confirmed in writing, or note any damage. Disputes can sometimes arise after you arrive home so it’s a good idea taking the time to take some phone pictures of the car both when you pick it up and when you return it.

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Check all the switches, indicators and other controls carefully and if any are unfamiliar or don’t work, ask the rental firm for guidance.

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Check the refuelling requirements in advance and keep fuel bills as proof of a full tank when the vehicle is returned. Consider taking a photo of the fuel gauge, particularly if dropping the car off without a hire company employee present.

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Third-party insurance is a must but in some countries the minimum statutory cover may be higher and if cover is insufficient, the hirer is personally liable for the excess. There may be a charge to increase cover.

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If you can, choose comprehensive damage cover without an excess, but check what is actually covered as some may exclude damage to tyres, rims, the underbody or stone chips.

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This is recommended if it is not included in the comprehensive insurance.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][/vc_accordion][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”PARKING AND TOLLS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]You can get parking discs for ‘blue zone’ (zone bleue) pay-and-display parking areas from police stations, tourist offices and some shops. These let you park free for one hour between 9am and 12pm and from 2pm or 2:30pm until 7pm from Mondays to Saturdays, with no limit outside these hours or on Sundays and public holidays.

If you see the word horadateur (ticket machine) or stationnement payant (paid parking), this means that there is a nearby machine and you have to pay and display. Also beware of signs saying stationnement interdit – this means No Parking.

As mentioned above, make sure to factor in road tolls when planning your journey. Keep money aside to cover these costs and keep some spare change handy but don’t leave it lying about in your car.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”EUROPEAN BREAKDOWN COVER” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]If you plan on taking your own vehicle, The AA offers European Breakdown Cover. Some of the benefits include:

  • 24 hour English speaking emergency telephone assistance throughout Europe.
  • Roadside assistance for the duration of your motoring holiday.
  • Emergency roadside repairs or towing to the nearest garage in over 40 European countries.
  • Location and dispatch of spare parts(s) needed to complete repairs overseas.
  • Vehicle recovery to the Republic of Ireland.
  • Provision for emergency car hire, accommodation or alternative travel.
  • Emergency accommodation if you have to wait for repair work to be completed.
  • Discounts for AA members.

Get a quote here![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”FURTHER READING” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]More on driving on the continent:

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Photo by Spedona, used under CC licence.

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Categories
England France Germany Ireland Italy Scotland Spain Wales

Hiring and Driving a Car in Europe

[vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1433753900038{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;}” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Hiring a car anywhere abroad should be a relatively easy and transparent process, but very often it is not and is something that can cost you dear when you get home.

The array of insurances and confusing conditions can make it virtually impossible to make an informed judgement – there’s a chance that you may either take out unnecessary insurance or face additional and often considerable costs later.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1433754037283{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;}” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Plan Ahead

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator type=”normal” position=”center”][vc_column_text]If you leave it to the last minute and simply pick a car hire desk at random when you arrive at your destination airport you’ll have no idea if you’re getting a good deal or not.

The best advice is to plan ahead and book before you travel. This will give you plenty of time to read and understand the conditions of hire and consider the cost and value of any additional charges.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1433755003295{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;}” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

When you’re there

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To help you plan accordingly, we’ve listed advice below for hiring and driving a car in countries such as Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.

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Spain

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Source: “Llançà coastline” by Dennis van Zuijlekom on Flickr used under

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

[/image_with_text][vc_column_text]Who can I rent from? Many well-known car-hire brands have offices throughout Spain such as Hertz, Avis, Europcar, and Alamo. If you’re an AA Member you can save up to 10% on global car hire.

What about tolls? Spain has a large number of tolls dotted throughout the country – inconvenient at times, but these roads enable easier access than their alternatives. You can view a list of toll prices in Spain here.

Is there anything else I should know? Hire cars are often targeted in service areas or tricked in to stopping on the hard shoulder by the occupant of a passing vehicle. They will gesture that something is wrong with the vehicle, so lock all doors and keep bags out of sight. The number of thefts by bogus policemen has increased in Madrid and Catalonia. It’s also worth remembering to bring the same credit card to the rental check-in desk that you initially booked with.

Fuel Prices
Unleaded: €1.25 – Diesel: €1.17

Advice from AA spokesman Conor Faughnan: “More Irish people drive abroad in Spain than anywhere else so lots of people have had the experience. The Spanish have spent hugely on their roads and the motorway network is excellent but it can be scary.

We are spoilt in Ireland because our motorways are new and feel comfortable in terms of lane widths and hard shoulders, compared to Spain especially. I saw a truck driver trying to change a wheel near Barcelona a year or so ago on a hard shoulder that was only half the width of his vehicle.

What you do find though, are plentiful good quality service areas (National Roads Authority please take note).

Spanish motorways are a good deal cheaper than France but they too are sprinkled with toll booths. Often the toll itself is set according to by-laws or converted from old peseta or franc denominations. Hence, you get utterly stupid charges like €2.56 that have tourists wrestling for small coins.

The Spanish have got their act together more recently in terms of enforcement. If you haven’t been in a while, you might be tempted to treat their speed-camera signs as just roadside decoration. A mistake – Spanish, French and Italian authorities can and do pursue you, and you will get an unpleasant demand in the post weeks later for anywhere between €45 and €80.

Especially in tourist areas, park carefully. It’s not just bag-snatchers – many parts of Spain are notorious for cars with dents and scratches.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern” padding_top=”20″ padding_bottom=”50″ css_animation=”element_from_fade”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Portugal

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Source: “Lisbon, Portugal” by Arden on Flickr used under

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

[/image_with_text][vc_column_text]Who can I rent from? Many well-known car-hire brands have offices throughout Portugal such as Hertz, Budget and Thrifty.

What about tolls? Tolls are charged at several motorways throughout Portugal. It is compulsory to either carry a Temporary Electronic Toll Device (DEM) or pre-pay tolls. This is required for many motorways throughout Portugal. The official guide to paying tolls can be viewed here but we understand the toll motorways to be the A4, A17, A22, A23, A24, A25, A28, A29, A41 and A42.

Is there anything else I should know? It’s not unusual to spot police cars at the side of the road with speed guns as speed limits are strictly imposed. In built-up areas, drive at 31 mph (50 km/h), outside built-up areas at 55 mph (90 km/h) or 62 mph (100 km/h) and on motorways at 74 mph (120 km/h).The minimum speed on motorways is 31 mph (50 km/h). Motorists who have held a driving licence for less than one year must not exceed 55 mph (90 km/h). In some town centres the speed is reduced to 12 mph (20 km/h).

Fuel Prices
Unleaded: €1.41 – Diesel: €1.23

Advice from AA spokesman Conor Faughnan:There wasn’t just a Celtic Tiger in Ireland – Portugal had one as well. They invested very heavily in infrastructure so like Ireland, Portugese motorways are good quality modern ones.

In years gone by the Portugese road safety record was appalling, one of the worst in Europe and far worse than Ireland’s even when ours was a disgrace. However times have changed all around Europe and in Portugal standards have improved to the point where you will hardly recognise them if you are remembering a trip from a decade ago.

Even so, these roads are relatively more dangerous than Irish ones. In tourist areas especially you do need to concentrate at all times.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern” padding_top=”20″ padding_bottom=”50″ css_animation=”element_from_fade”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Italy

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Source: “Rome” by Moyan Brenn on Flickr used under

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

[/image_with_text][vc_column_text]Who can I rent from? Car-hire is available from Hertz, Avis and Thrifty alongside plenty of smaller independent car-hire firms.

What about tolls? Tolls are levied on the majority of motorways in Italy. You can calculate tolls here.

Is there anything else I should know? AREA C (A pollution charge, formerly Eco-pass) is levied in the centre of Milan. Charges apply Mon-Fri and generally from 7.30am until 7.30pm. Drivers must purchase an eco-pass before entering the restricted zone. Tariffs vary according to the emissions of the vehicle. Mopeds and motorcycles are exempt.

Traffic is also restricted in many historical centres/major towns known as ‘Zone a Traffico Limitato’ or ZTL’s, where circulation is only permitted for residents.

Fuel Prices
Unleaded: €1.65 – Diesel: €1.52

Advice from AA spokesman Conor Faughnan: “The Italians have a reputation for being warm, friendly, chaotic, stylish and disorganised. It is a wonderful country to visit but in keeping with the clichés their roads can be difficult for visitors. I drove in northern Italy a number of years ago and it is a Mecca for car nuts. At one stage, as we sat in traffic in our diesel Ford Fiesta hire car, I noted that the car in front and the two cars behind me were all Ferraris. We also took a spin up into the Italian Alps. I gather the scenery was lovely; I didn’t get to see it. Along twisted mountain roads that looked like they were straight out of The Italian Job, my abiding memory was of dodging the bikers flinging themselves into hairpin bends. I half-expected to see piles of smashed bikes at the base of the cliffs.

Don’t let it put you off. Italy has a good quality modern network, and while town and city centres probably do require an experienced and calm visiting driver the general driving environment feels safe and secure. Motorways are extensively tolled but are far cheaper than France and more comparable to Spanish rates.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern” padding_top=”20″ padding_bottom=”50″ css_animation=”element_from_fade”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

France

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Source: “Paris Skyline, France” by Luke Ma on Flickr used under

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

[/image_with_text][vc_column_text]Who can I rent from? You can rent from companies like Hertz, Sixt and Argus Car Hire. Rental vehicles in France come with unlimited third party liability insurance included in the initial price.

What about tolls? Pay-as-you-go tolls are charged on most motorways in France. You can pay toll fees by credit card or cash.

Is there anything else I should know? “French authorities are quite stringent on all motorists carrying the correct documents and compulsory equipment when driving. These include a warning triangle and a reflective jacket. The jacket must be kept within the passenger compartment of the vehicle and be put on before exiting the vehicle in an emergency/breakdown situation. It is absolutely prohibited to carry, transport or use radar detectors. Failure to comply with this regulation involves a fine of up to €1,500 and the vehicle and/or device may be confiscated.

Fuel Prices
Unleaded: €1.39 – Diesel: €1.39

Advice from AA spokesman Conor Faughnan: “France is a beautiful part of the world and the roads make it easy. On the motorways especially, you quickly forget that you are abroad. The locals are reasonably friendly provided you don’t bring bad Irish motorway habits with you. Our tendencies to hog the outer lane or to switch lanes without indicating do not go down well.

The Autoroutes are peppered with tolls and they really add up. As a rule of thumb it is usually between 0.07-0.10 cent per kilometre travelled, add about half that again if you are towing a caravan. I did a 375km trip in the south of France last year and it cost nearly as much in tolls as it did in fuel: €31.00

French traffic police are notorious and their law is tough. Treat them as formally as you would airport security or you may regret it just as much. They are much more laid back off the roads but be warned. Don’t dream of taking an alcohol-risk.

Don’t ignore speed cameras either – they work and you’ll find a charge either applied to your card or sent to you back home in Ireland.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1433771293246{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;}” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

For peace of mind

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator type=”normal” position=”center”][vc_column_text]• Damage – check the car for damage with an employee from the car rental company before signing a rental agreement, and again when the vehicle is returned. Have the damage-free condition confirmed in writing, or note any damage. Disputes can sometimes arise after you arrive home so it’s a good idea taking the time to take some phone pictures of the car both when you pick it up and when you return it.

Controls – Check all the switches, indicators and other controls carefully and if any are unfamiliar or don’t work, ask the rental firm for guidance
Refuelling – check the refuelling requirements in advance and keep fuel bills as proof of a full tank when the vehicle is returned. Consider taking a photo of the fuel gauge, particularly if dropping the car off without a hire company employee present.
Insurance cover – third-party insurance is a must but in some countries the minimum statutory cover may be higher and if cover is insufficient, the hirer is personally liable for the excess. There may be a charge to increase cover.
Additional insurance – if you can, choose comprehensive damage cover without an excess, but check what is actually covered as some may exclude damage to tyres, rims, the underbody or stone chips.
Theft insurance – recommended if this is not included in the comprehensive insurance.

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Categories
Denmark Europe Featured France Germany Hungary Italy

Forget Paris: the alternative Valentine’s Day guide

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Forget Paris! Venice? Too predictable. If you’re thinking of heading off with your beloved this Valentine’s Day, we’ve come up with some alternative romantic destinations. You’ll LOVE them!

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BUDAPEST” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22354″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]The River Danube divides the Hungarian capital into the hilly Buda district to the west and the flatter Pest in the east. The city is connected by the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and boasts plenty of romantic cityscapes, ideal for getting down on one knee and popping the big question: “Will we change our Facebook status to ‘In a relationship’?”

What to do:

Budapest is a very easy city to explore by foot. Start your day buying snacks or trinkets in Great Market Hall at the Pest end of Szabadság Bridge and then hop on a sightseeing bus to help you get your bearings. Some hop-on-hop-off bus tours even include a river cruise. Disembark at Margaret Island, a verdant parkland in the city, hire bikes or golf carts pimped to look like mini Rolls Royces and explore. You can even enjoy a thermal spa experience in the park itself! In the evening, throw on your ballgown or tux and enjoy a night at the Hungarian State Opera, which is housed in an impressive neo-Renaissance building.

Getting there:

There are direct flights from Dublin but you will have stopovers if flying from Cork and Shannon.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”LYON” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22356″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Located in eastern France, Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has plenty to offer lovebirds looking to make memories. More importantly, the city will provide you with stunning backdrops with which to update your social media.

What to do:

Pay a visit to the magnificent Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and you will be rewarded with stunning views from its vantage point over the city. Whilst there, you can dine at the Restaurant de Fourvière and survey all below from the giant panoramic bay windows. Go for romantic strolls around Place Bellecour, a large pedestrianised square in the Ainay district which has great shopping streets. What’s more romantic than a trip to Zara? Answer: nothing.

Getting there:

Aer Lingus, Ryanair, KLM and Lufthansa fly direct from Dublin. Flights also operate from Cork, Kerry, Shannon, Donegal and Knock but with stopovers.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”HAMBURG” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22357″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Think canals, think Venice – but did you know that Hamburg has more canals than Venice and Amsterdam combined? I bet you did not. Regardless, Hamburg is a beautiful city with plenty of green spaces, diverse architecture and shopping.

What to do:

Pretend to be a giant at Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model train exhibit, with 10 miles of track and over 260,000 figurines. Located in the Speicherstadt area of the city, a few hours will pass easily as you take in tiny replicas of Hamburg, the Alps, America and Scandinavia. If you’re visiting on a weekend, the Flohschanze market in the Sternschanze neighbourhood – Hamburg’s old meatpacking district – is a 30-minute walk away. Running from 8am to 4pm, there are hundreds of stalls for you to browse. Finish off your visit with a river tour of the Elbe leaving from Landungsbrücken, and take in one of the world’s busiest ports.

Getting there:

Fly direct to Hamburg from Dublin and from Cork and Shannon with stopovers.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BOLOGNA” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22358″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Located in Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna Region, Bologna is Europe’s oldest university town. The city famously gave the world Bolognese sauce, traditionally served with tagliatelle and lasagne. There is much to see and do in this beautiful city, which is perfect for lovers and food lovers.

What to do:

If you want to experience the best in Italian food and drink, a visit to food theme park FICO Eately World, has to be on your list. Set over two hectares of fields with over 40 restaurants, farming factories and up to 30 events and 50 classes per day, you’ll feel like an expert the next time you order a meat feast pizza on a Friday night from your local takeaway. A couple of hours exploring the grid of streets known as the Quadrilatero, packed with cafés and delis, is also recommended. Finally, if you’ve got a head for heights, climb to the top of one of the city’s two leaning towers, Torre degli Asinelli.

Getting there:

Direct flights operate from Dublin. Flights leaving from Cork, Knock or Shannon will have one or more stops.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”COPENHAGEN” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22359″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and the national concept of hygge, roughly translated as “cosy, charming or special” – perfect for a romantic weekend with your loved one. You won’t be able to cope(nhagen) with all it has to offer.

What to do:

After dark, head to Tivoli, a giant amusement park in the city where a winter theme continues until the end of February. Complete with snow, thousands of twinkling lights, rides, cafés and restaurants, your Valentine’s visit is guaranteed to feel festive. For a more alternative experience, head to Freetown Christiana, a car-free neighbourhood established in 1971 by a group of hippies. Browse galleries, organic restaurants and homemade houses and soak up the atmosphere. Finally, a trip to Copenhagen wouldn’t be complete without visiting the bronze statue of The Little Mermaid by the waterside at Langelinie promenade. Fun fact to casually drop into conversation and impress your lover: the statue was originally gifted to the city by brewer Carl Jacobsen of the Carlsberg breweries and is therefore probably the best bronze statue of a mermaid in the world. You can steal that joke too while you’re at it.

Getting there:

Fly direct from Dublin and with one or more stopovers from Cork and Shannon.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”MORE IDEAS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

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All photos: public domain.

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Categories
France

5 Theme Parks in France Your Kids Won’t Want to Miss

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If you’re looking for a fun filled day out with the kids then these five theme parks are bound to keep you and the family entertained for hours on end.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Disneyland Paris [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

There’s a reason that Disneyland Paris is the most well-known theme park in all of France. It’s spellbinding, enchanting surroundings will bring wonder and awe to children of all ages. With breath-taking parades, family-friendly rides and the chance to meet Minnie and Mickey Mouse, it’s no surprise that Disneyland Paris is the most visited theme park in Europe. You and the family can take a trip down to Pocahontas’ Indian Village, spin about on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups or help Buzz Lightyear in his laser quest. As the sun sets on your magical adventure, you can see Sleeping Beauty’s Castle come to life with lasers, fireworks and a unique telling of the Disney classic stories.

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Puy du Fou [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If you’re looking for something a little different during your stay in France, then the historical theme park, Puy du Fou will be right up your street. Throughout the day, you can watch gladiator’s battle and chariots race in an authentic Roman stadium. Enjoy witnessing British and French armies fight in a medieval castle in the heart of a forest or be a part of the intense battles amongst the Vikings. In between shows, the kids can have fun at the jumping water jets or pick their own vegetable in the quaint 18th Century village. The park is located in the heart of the Vendée region of Western France and is less than an hour drive from the cities of Nantes and Angers.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Futuroscope[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If the thoughts of roller coasters and being thrown 50ft into the air make your stomach churn, then fear not, Futuroscope is the ideal place for you and your family. Situated just 10km north of the city of Poitiers, Futuroscope is the perfect spot for those who wish to experience the thrill of a theme park, but without feeling faint. Combining a mixture of motion simulators, 3D and 4D theme rides, there is no room for boredom at Futuroscope. The Little Prince is a 4D experience your kids will not want to miss. Special effects such as ground vibration, rain, clouds, smoke and the sensation of falling are just some of the thrills you can expect during your day out. A stress-free day out is guaranteed, as there is a direct route to the park via TGV.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

The Astérix Park [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Centrally located just 30km from the city of Paris, The Astérix Park is the perfect blend of rollercoasters and amusements. With five different worlds for you and the kids to explore, you can spend the whole day immersed in Egypt, The Roman Empire or Ancient Greece, to name but a few. For the adrenaline seekers in your family, the park also boasts the biggest wooden rollercoaster in Europe, the jaw-dropping Goudurix winding rollercoaster. On a warm, sunny day you can cool off on one of the many water-based theme rides or face an incoming ‘storm’ on a swing boat. The younger children won’t be left out either. One third of the total attractions in The Astérix Park are catered to suit children under 6 years old so families of all ages can enjoy what it has to offer.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Cite de l’Espace [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Has your child ever dreamt of becoming an astronaut? That dream could become a reality with a day visit to Space City, located just a 15min drive from Toulouse’s city centre. Visitors can travel on board the MIR Space Station, an exact replica of the well-known Russian space station used for ground testing. As well as that, your family can lead a space mission, take control of a spacecraft, build your own rocket or practice your moonwalking. Watch their eyes light up as they walk towards the Ariane 5 Rocket, the giant life-sized rocket that reaches up to 53m in height. For the adults then, marvel at the Planetarium or sit back and enjoy a screening in the IMAX theatres.

Image credit: pixabay.com[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Bulgaria Czech Republic Europe Featured Poland Romania Slovakia Sport and leisure Winter sports

Skiing on a budget in eastern Europe

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While undoubtedly fun, the expense of skiing can be off-putting. There’s kit to buy, flights, ski passes and accommodation to pay for – not to mention the cost of après-ski. It all adds up very quickly. With this in mind, we’ve done some research and found a handful of more affordable ski resorts in Eastern Europe. They may not be as glam as Gstaad, but they won’t break the bank…

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”POLAND – ideal for beginners and families” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22293″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Poland’s most popular resort is Zakopane, a two-hour drive from Krakow and ideal for beginners and families. Intermediate skiers and those looking for a great nightlife should look elsewhere, but if skiing in the snow-tracks of a former Pope is one of your goals, then you’re in luck (Pope John Paul II was a regular visitor).

Zakopane is made up of several smaller resorts spread around the town which can be accessed by bus. Most offer pay-as-you-go lift passes and eating out is also quite reasonable. Skiing conditions are at their best in January but be warned: the days are short and cold. The end of February and the full month of March are popular with skiers.

GETTING THERE:

Ryanair fly direct to Krakow from Dublin and from Cork and Shannon with one stopover. Taxis, mini-buses and coaches can be hired for transfer to Zakopane.

MORE INFO:

discoverzakopane.com

Image by Konrad Wąsik, used under CC-BY-3.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CZECH REPUBLIC – great for kids” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22294″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]The Krkonoše is the Czech Republic’s highest mountain range and Janské Lázne is a small spa town nestled among the peaks. Book your flights to Prague and it will take you about two hours to get to the snow. Once you arrive, there are gentle, wooded slopes which are suited to beginners, intermediates and children. There are also child-friendly menus and hotels, and cheap lessons.

GETTING THERE:

Aer Lingus and Ryanair both fly direct to Prague from Dublin. They also operate flights from Cork and Shannon with one stopover. It’s a two-hour drive from the airport to the resort and a number of taxi services can be booked for a fixed price.

MORE INFO:

janske-lazne.cz

Image by T. Przechlewski, used under CC-BY-3.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BULGARIA – great nightlife” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22295″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Borovets is the oldest, biggest, and one of the cheapest ski resorts in Bulgaria. It’s especially good for those who haven’t skied before and intermediates, as there are good nursery runs for those starting out and most hotels are located next to the slopes. Borovets is also known for its busy and affordable nightlife.

GETTING THERE:         

Ryanair fly to Sofia three times weekly and there are shuttle services to Borovets once you land, which take approx. 55 minutes. Aer Lingus fly to Bourgas, located to the far east of Borovets, but it will take an extra three and a half/four hour journey. Car hire is available at Bourgas Airport.

MORE INFO:

bulgariaski.com/borovets

Image by Tropcho, used under CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”ROMANIA – perfect for beginners and intermediates” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22296″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Romania’s most popular ski resort is Poiana Brasov, Transylvania and is perfect for beginners and intermediates. The ski area covers 14km which is small compared to other European resorts, but it is still a very attractive and affordable location for a ski break. There are two cable cars and a gondola that will bring you to an altitude of 1775m. You can then enjoy a long, 45-minute run to the bottom without taking another lift.

While you’re there, you could also take a day away from the slopes and pay a visit to nearby Bran Castle, which inspired Irish writer Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

GETTING THERE:

Ryanair, Turkish Airlines and Blue Air all fly to Bucharest, Romania direct. There are also flights from Cork and Shannon which include one stopover. Getting to the slopes requires an extra three-and-a-half hour travel. Shuttle buses and taxis are available for hire or you can take the train which will be approx. four-and-a-half hours. A taxi from the airport to Bucuresti Nord station is 30 minutes by car. You then take the train to Brasov and use local transport to get to Poiana Brasov.

MORE INFO:

ski-in-romania.com

Image by Surovyi, used under CC-BY-2.5 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”SLOVAKIA – suitable for advanced skiers” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22297″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Jasná in Slovakia is located in Chopok mountain, one of the highest in the Low Tatra range, and is suitable for all skill levels, from beginners to experts. Snow is guaranteed for five months a year with the ski season lasting from the end of December to the start of April. There’s lots to do besides skiing with restaurants and nightclubs as well as an Aqua Park and indoor sky-diving.

GETTING THERE:

A number of airlines operate from Dublin to Bratislava, Slovakia but Ryanair is the only company that flies direct and offer several flights each week. Car hire is available at Bratislava Airport and it will then take over three hours to reach Jasná.

MORE INFO:

jasna.sk

Image by Marcin Szala, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET COVERED” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]The AA’s Winter Sports Cover can be added to your Essential or Extra* Travel Insurance policy if you decide to hit the slopes. As well as all the benefits of AA Travel Insurance, adding on Winter Sports covers you for things like your ski pass, lessons and equipment.

*Don’t forget that AA Members get extra benefits on Travel Insurance with the AA Extra Policy. If you’re an AA Member at the time you take out Annual Travel Insurance, you can enjoy unlimited medical cover and no excess on any claim – as well as the usual benefits – from just €34.99.

Main image used under CC0 licence.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Europe Featured Greece Portugal Spain

Winter sun holidays: the AA Roadwatch guide

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The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler… but if you don’t have school-age children, you don’t have to put away the Factor 50 just yet. While peak sun holiday season is drawing to a close, plenty of European destinations hold on to their sunny weather right through the autumn months. In fact, it might be the perfect time for that sun trip: prices are lower, crowds are smaller and you can bask in the knowledge that you’re avoiding cold weather at home!

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”TENERIFE (Canary Islands, Spain)” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22261″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]If you’re dreaming of long days on the beach, there’s no better place than Tenerife, where the sea is at its warmest in the autumn months. As with the other Canary Islands, it boasts year-round warm weather. Daytime temperatures seldom dip below 20 degrees and rain is fairly rare. The island has no shortage of sandy beaches to laze on, with an unusual twist – many of them have black sand, due to the island’s volcanic origins, so you’ll be guaranteed plenty of variety for your holiday snaps.

Tenerife has been welcoming tourists for over half a century and its resorts stay open 365 days a year. In Playa de las Américas, the biggest resort, you’ll find hotel and apartments for all budgets. If it’s nightlife you’re after, look no further than the Veronicas Strip, full of bars that stay busy long into the night. For those travelling with toddlers though, Los Gigantes on the west coast is a slightly quieter option, with plenty of restaurants centred around a marina.

If you want to venture beyond the pool or beach, the island has plenty to offer. It’s home to two UNESCO heritage sites: Spain’s highest volcano in Teide Mountain Park (where you can take a cable car for unrivalled views) and the picturesque old town of San Cristobál de la Laguna. You can also take boat tours to see dolphins, or have a day out in Loro Parque zoo.

ESSENTIAL INFO: Package holidays start from €350 per person for a week, or if you’d prefer to book independently, flights are available from Dublin, Cork and Shannon (year-round) and Knock (until November) costing around €200 per person return.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”THE ALGARVE (Portugal)” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22262″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Portugal’s Algarve region stays sunny well into autumn, with temperatures hovering at the 20 degree mark. Taking up most of the southern coast between the cities of Faro and Lagos, it’s home to over 150 sandy beaches, many of which are framed by spectacular orange cliffs. The Atlantic Ocean gives Portugal a great variety here – there are calm beaches ideal for paddling and catching rays, while others have the perfect conditions for surfers to catch waves, particularly near Lagos.

You’ll still have a large choice of hotels in autumn, with the added bonus of shorter queues for restaurants. Albufeira is the biggest resort town, with a famous strip of bars and clubs to dance until the small hours. Away from the strip, it also has the quieter Old Town, with bars and restaurants to while away the warm autumn nights.

You could easily spend a week relaxing by the pool and exploring the various beaches, but the city of Faro also is well worth a visit, especially its own historic Old Town. History buffs will also like the Castelo de Silves, an impressive Moorish hill-top fortress, while thrill-seekers can enjoy a kayak tour from Lagos. Lagos is also home to a zoo and a national park with playgrounds for those with young children.

ESSENTIAL INFO: Package holidays are available from €200 per person for a week, or flights go from Dublin (year-round) and Cork and Knock (until November), starting from €100 per person return.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CYPRUS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22263″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Tucked away in the corner of the Mediterranean, Cyprus boasts sea temperatures of up to 26 degrees, so there’s no risk of dipping a toe in and running away shrieking. Or if you’d rather just soak up the sun, there’s an average of nine hours sunshine a day in October, so don’t forget the suncream.

There are resorts dotted around the island, with plenty of hotels to choose from. For nightlife, it can only be Ayia Napa for all-night parties. If that’s not your scene or you’re travelling with infants, try the quieter town of Coral Bay, just outside the resort area in Paphos.

Away from the beaches, Cyprus has plenty for history and culture fans to enjoy, including Aphrodite’s Rock, the 2000-year-old Tomb of the Kings and the huge archaeological sites at Kourion and Salamis. There’s also a wine festival in Limassol and a 10-day arts and culture festival in the capital, Nicosia. The waterparks stay open until late October, while most tourist attractions and zoos are open year-round.

ESSENTIAL INFO: Package holidays start from €450 per person per week. If you’re booking flights only, you’ll need to connect via London Stansted, with a total cost of around €260 per person return.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”MALTA” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22264″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Like Cyprus, Malta’s location in the Mediterranean means that summer weather lasts until November, with the mercury lingering in the low twenties. Beach lovers have a choice of gold sand, red sand and flat rocks, while the seas are very warm for swimming and usually clear enough for snorkelling. The catch is that the island gets a little more rain than other destinations in October. However, the majority of days are dry and showers tend to last very short periods of time – so be sure to pack a light raincoat along with your suncream.

Bugibba, on St Paul’s Bay in the north, is the oldest and biggest resort. There’s a vast choice of hotels and apartments to suit all ages, and most of the tourist-aimed bars and restaurants stay open until at least late October. St Julian’s Bay, closer to the capital Valetta, is known for its nightlife and clubs.

Outside the resorts, Malta is full of historic sites worth visiting, especially the old city of Mdina, known as the ‘silent city’. The capital Valetta also has plenty of beautiful old buildings, while the picturesque island of Gozo makes a great day trip, with ferries every 45 minutes from the north of the country. A more unusual attraction is Popeye Village – the set from the 1980 Robin Williams film, which has been turned into a theme park.

ESSENTIAL INFO: Package holidays are available from about €300 per person for a week, while flights run from Dublin year-round, costing around €135 per person return.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”ATHENS (Greece)” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22265″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]If you’d like a sun holiday with a difference, why not combine it with a city break and head to Athens? If you stay in Glyfada – a beach resort filled with hotels, restaurants and shops to the south of the Greek capital– you can have the best of both worlds. Spend a few days relaxing on the pebbled beaches in Glyfada itself or the sandy beach at Varkiza, where the seas are even warmer than the air, and then take the tram into Athens for sun-soaked sightseeing.

No trip to Athens is complete without a visit to the world-famous Acropolis and Parthenon. The city’s ancient history is very much on display and there are plenty of organised tours. You can also take a cable car to the top of Mount Lycabettus or spend an afternoon wandering the tiny streets of the old town in Plaka.

Set in the shadow of the Acropolis, Plaka is famous for its nightlife, as is the nearby Syntagma area.  If you want to dance the night away, the last tram returns to Glyfada at 2:30am at weekends. (For the real night owls, they start up again at 5:30am!)

ESSENTIAL INFO: Package trips to Athens are relatively rare, but are normally around €300 per person per week. You can also book flights year-round from €135 per person.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”FURTHER READING” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Looking for more ideas for short breaks? See below!

Best things to do in Porto in just 24 hours

Travelling to Berlin – the AA Roadwatch guide

Travelling to Amsterdam – the AA Roadwatch guide

Travelling to Edinburgh – the AA Roadwatch guide[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”DON’T FORGET!” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

We hope that everything will run smoothly on your trip, but AA Travel Insurance will give you the peace of mind that you need before you jet off.

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All images used under CC0 licence.

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Categories
Africa England Europe France Morocco Netherlands Portugal Spain

City Breaks – the AA Roadwatch guide

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Here in Ireland we may be marooned on an island, but it’s never been easier – nor cheaper – to jet off for a fun-filled city break in one of the dozens of fascinating destinations on our doorstep. And now that winter is approaching, it’s a great time to start poring over the map, feeding the imagination and then firing up the cheap flights websites in search of some last minute sun or even a winter wonderland.

We asked some of the AA Roadwatch team to tell us about their favourite city breaks – and they’re not all in Europe. So read on for some inspiration from our broadcasters and get booking![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text image=”21891″ title=”Seville”]

Photo by SkareMedia used under CC BY-SA 3.0 ES licence

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Lauren Beehan

IN A FEW WORDS:

A unique fusion of styles and cultures, Seville is an enthralling city where getting lost is part of the fun. 

HIGHLIGHTS:

Seville is the traditional starting place for journeys in Spanish literature, so a weekend here was a fitting start to my own travels in Spain. The labyrinthine Barrio Santa Cruz is a true navigational challenge, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in its tiny winding streets: who needs a map when there’s a tapas bar or café around every corner?

Map or no map, I couldn’t miss Seville’s proudest historical sites: the colourful Alcázar (palace) and the world’s largest cathedral, whose skyscraping belltower (La Giralda) started life as part of a 12th-century mosque. Indeed, the whole city is a blend of Arabic and European styles, unlike anything I’d seen before.

Less than a kilometre away from those historical treasures, I climbed the baffling Metropol Parasol, a modern wooden structure built over a two-century-old market. Officially, it’s designed to resemble trees; locals call it Las Setas (the Mushrooms). The rooftop panorama is great spot for a drink or, in my case, to take too many photos.

A final noteworthy spot is the majestic Plaza de España in Maria Luísa Park, where I discovered how terrible I am at rowing boats. I should have followed the sevillanos’ lead and stuck to paddling in the enormous fountain…

HOW TO GET THERE:

Ryanair fly to Seville twice weekly from Dublin. Several airlines offer daily flights via London. 

GETTING AROUND:

The Old Town is best experienced on foot, but taxis are inexpensive and quick. There’s also an extensive bus network, a metro line and a tram line.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21910″ title=”Marrakech”]

Photo by Luc Viatour, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated licence

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Arwen Foley

IN A FEW WORDS:

Not your typical city break, but perfect for warming the bones. 

HIGHLIGHTS:

Most people who contemplate a trip to the Moroccan city of Marrakech think of it as somewhere to relax and lie out by the pool and if that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend heading to a hotel in the new city.

However, if you’re looking for a culturally diverse location, completely different from your normal city break, then I thoroughly recommend a stay in a riad – a bit like boutique hotel – within the walls of Marrakech’s old city. We stayed in Riad Dar One, which was lovely and within walking distance of most of the major tourist attractions.

The colours, sights, sounds and the smell of spices and orange blossom make Marrakech a truly wonderful city. You can spend hours meandering down the narrow streets or getting lost amongst the market stalls.

Food can be very mixed in Marrakech so it’s best to do your research before you travel. Trying a Moroccan tagine is a must – perhaps start with chicken cooked in honey, with apricots and almonds. Morocco is a Muslim country so alcohol is not as readily available as it is in Ireland. However, most hotels serve alcohol and we didn’t have any problem finding bars to stop in for a tipple. It is advisable to check that the restaurant you’re going to serves alcohol before you get there though.

HOW TO GET THERE:

The only airline that flies direct from Dublin to Marrakech is Ryanair so really there’s only one option. When we arrived, our riad had arranged for a driver to collect us. You can get also get a taxi but be warned, a lot of the taxi drivers only speak Arabic or French. My Leaving Cert French came in quite handy for the couple of days we were there.

GETTING AROUND:

The best way to get around is on foot but it is possible to get a taxi or you can do the real touristy thing and flag down a horse and cart.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21890″ title=”Lyon”]

Photo by Patrick Giraud used under CC BY-SA 1.0 licence.

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Chris Jones

IN A FEW WORDS:

A beguiling riverside city that’s not just for foodies.

HIGHLIGHTS:

France’s third largest city may not have the romance of Paris or the glittering coastline of Nice, but it’s the kind of place that charms you quickly. A lot of people go for the food (it boasts a galaxy of Michelin stars among its many restaurants) and although I can’t vouch for that, it’s a wonderful city to wander around. Be warned though – it’s very hilly. Vieux (old) Lyon is a charming area with lots of nooks and crannies to explore (and the steepest Metro line I’ve ever been on) while the best views are from the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which dominates the city’s skyline. You can take a funicular railway up to it but wrap up unless it’s summer – the first time I visited in early spring, it was icy cold. Back in the attractive city centre, I recommend a stroll along the banks of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and don’t miss Place Bellecour, one of Europe’s largest public squares.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to Lyon-Saint Exupéry five times a week. Easyjet flies from Belfast International once a week, every Saturday. When I went there for Euro 2016 direct flights had sold out, so I flew to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and took the high-speed TGV train direct to Lyon. It’s fun and covers the 500km distance in just two hours.

GETTING AROUND:

Lyon has a comprehensive transport network, with a six-line tram system and a four-line metro, as well as an extensive bus network, taxis and Uber. Public transport runs from around 5am to midnight, and a single ticket on any form costs €1.90. The Lyon City Card includes unlimited use of public transport for as long as the card is valid.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21889″ title=”Lisbon”]

Photo used under CC0 License

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Adrian Harmon

IN A FEW WORDS:

A charming medieval city whose trams zig-zag across its seven hills.

HIGHLIGHTS:

The city is awash with tours, and I highly recommend them as a way of getting acquainted with your surroundings. The city centre is easily navigated on foot – don’t miss Bairro Alto, the centre of the city’s nightlife, the opulent Baixa district and the quaint and maze-like neighbourhood of Alfama, which surrounds the city’s Arabic/medieval St George Castle.

I stayed near Rua Dom Pedro V and Rua Sao Pedro de Alcantara – a central area which is home to some great restaurants. Rooms with a view include Insólito (great food and cocktails) and Lost In (quirky and there are no bad seats). The restaurant-cum-hostel Decadente was also a very nice lunch option.

Outside the city, there are some great places to visit. The walks and coastline around Cascais are worth the short train ride and boast breathtaking scenery. Boca de Inferno (Devil’s Mouth) is a great spot for some snaps.

The magical UNESCO World Heritage site of Sintra is also a must-see with the Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace among the attractions. The area is steeped in history, with spectacular views, and I found a half-day tour from the city plenty to take it in.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Direct flights from Dublin are operated by Aer Lingus and Ryanair. A frequent bus service will take you directly from the airport to city centre. A taxi will take approximately 20 minutes.

GETTING AROUND:

Lisbon’s tram network has declined since its heyday in the 1960s but trams remain a common sight on the city’s streets and the vintage ones are an attraction in themselves. There are also funiculars, a four-line metro and an extensive bus network. A 24-hour pass for bus, tram and metro costs €6.50 for the first day and €6 for each additional day.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21899″ title=”London”]

Photo by DeFacto used under CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Ruth Jephson

IN A FEW WORDS:

One of the most iconic cities in the world, and on Ireland’s doorstep.

HIGHLIGHTS:

The Museum of London is the perfect place to visit early on in your trip as it provides an overview of the city and its history. As you walk through the museum, you’ll learn about London chronologically and what has shaped it over the years – I found the features on The Great Fire and the 7/7 Bombings particularly interesting. St Paul’s, Moorgate and Barbican Underground stops are all 5/10 mins walk away and admission is free.

There are about a dozen exhibitions in the Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Rd, but make sure you visit the Holocaust Exhibition, which is a permanent fixture. Allow plenty of time – I’ve spent six hours there over two visits and I’m planning a third! There are incredibly moving video interviews with Holocaust survivors, as well as other potentially upsetting material so it’s not recommended for under 14s. Other exhibitions include The War on Terror and the First World War. Entry is free.

You could also check out the Tower of London, Madame Tussauds, Buckingham Palace and the two Tate Galleries – or see a West End show!

HOW TO GET THERE:

There are dozens of flights from Irish airports every day. If you fly to Gatwick, you can then take the non-stop Gatwick Express to the city, which goes every 15 mins. Last time, I flew to Luton and took the Thameslink in.

GETTING AROUND:

Get an Oyster card and you can use all London transport by tapping on and off. Download the Citymapper app. This is a godsend, you input your destination and, combining all the public transport options, it gives you the best way to get there. It even says what section of the train or tube to get on for ‘Exit Planning Optimisation’. (I love this app so much I nearly put it in the ‘Highlights’ section).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21892″ title=”Amsterdam”]

Photo by Patrick Clenet used under CC BY-SA 3.0 licence

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Róisín Nestor

IN A FEW WORDS:

Beautiful architecture, museums and plenty of interesting experiences!

HIGHLIGHTS:

One of the best things I did in Amsterdam was the Sandeman’s free walking tour. Our guide brought us around for two-and-a-half hours, covering everything from the city’s beginnings as a fishing village to the Red Light District. It was a local perspective and helped us plan how we wanted to spend the rest of our trip. Hopping onto a canal cruise is another great way to see the sights.

I’d definitely recommended booking in advance to avoid the queues at the Anne Frank House. The Heineken Experience was a bit of fun and I enjoyed the Van Gogh Museum. At €4 entry, the Sex Museum is also worth a look for a bit of a giggle. And if you’re not getting high enough on life, Bulldog Café is one of the best-known of Amsterdam’s infamous ‘coffeeshops’.

HOW TO GET THERE:

You can fly to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport from Dublin, Cork, Belfast City or Belfast International. When we arrived, we took the train from the airport to Centraal station.

GETTING AROUND:

Many of the attractions in Amsterdam are quite central so we mainly walked everywhere. Otherwise you can make use of the great network of buses and trains by buying a three day travel ticket for €26. Or why not do as the locals do and rent a bike?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Main image used under CC0 licence.

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No-one wants to think about bad things happening on holiday, but it’s always best to be prepared. AA Travel Insurance can give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy your time away.

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Categories
Europe Ireland Sport and leisure

Family fun when the sun doesn’t shine: the AA Roadwatch guide

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The August bank holiday may be behind us but there are still a couple of weeks left before the kids go back to school, and you can’t always rely on the sun to shine to keep them entertained. Fortunately, there’s a whole host of fun, exciting and educational activities on offer around the country so you and your family can enjoy a day out when the weather isn’t playing ball.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET ACTIVE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22245″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]If it’s pouring down outside and your little ones are starting to climb the walls, there’s no better remedy than taking them somewhere they can let off steam. For younger children, indoor play centres can be perfect – they can spend an hour or two running, jumping and sliding until their hearts’ content while you observe with a coffee. Try these centres in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin’s Long Mile Rd.

For older kids, there are even more options. Ten-pin bowling is an evergreen activity for all the family – there’s an alley in all the cities and in many large towns where you can unleash your competitive side. And for a retro spin, why not try out roller skating? There are rinks in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Newbridge.

If you’re going to get soaked if you go outside, you may as well get wet inside! With hair-raising slides, wave machines, lazy rivers and paddling pools, splashing around at a water park is a great way to spend a wet afternoon. Aqua Zone in Blanchardstown, Dublin, has thrilling slides for older kids (and grown-ups!) and the safe and fun Pirate Ship area for the under-8s. If you’re in the north-west, there’s Waterworld Bundoran, while Funtasia in Drogheda is another popular spot.

And if there’s a budding petrolhead in the family, indoor karting could get the green light. There are tracks all over the country where kids from around 8 years and older (depending on the centre) can have a go at becoming the next Lewis Hamilton:

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET EDUCATIONAL” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”21823″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]School may be out but there’s no reason that learning has to stop for the whole summer. There are lots of attractions and activities that are both educational and fun, no matter what gets your kids’ brain cells whirring.

Imaginosity in Sandyford, Dublin, is a great all-in-one choice for under-nines. There is a wide range of hands-on exhibits and play areas across three floors, and kids are encouraged to navigate it at their own pace. There are workshops too, focusing on science, theatre, art, engineering and more. W5 in Belfast is similar, but with more of a scientific focus – its name stands for “Who, What, Where, When, Why”, the questions posed by science. With over 250 interactive exhibits and a full programme of events, there’s plenty to keep everyone happy – including the grown-ups.

For older children with the space bug, observatories and planetariums are a great choice. Blackrock Castle in Cork is home to Cosmos at the Castle, an interactive astronomy exhibition, and daily planetarium shows that should get the kids dreaming of space. Birr Telescope and Science Museum in Offaly is a great option in the midlands, with a more personal perspective on space discovery told through the eyes of the pioneering Parson family.

Finally in Northern Ireland, Armagh Planetarium has been delighting children and adults since the late 1960s, with interactive exhibits, workshops and spectacular star shows in the domed theatre. Perfect for rainy days.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BE ENTERTAINED” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22249″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]What better way to put in a rainy afternoon than by watching a movie? While you can always go to a regular screening, many cinemas offer special kids’ screenings, often in the morning or early afternoon, at a discounted price. No need to worry about your little ones getting shushed from across the cinema, as everyone is in the same boat!

While a cinema trip is always an exciting event for kids, you can ramp up the excitement by taking them to an IMAX show. With a huge screen (generally 22m wide by 16m tall, but they can be bigger), IMAX used to be the preserve of educational and nature films. Now though, you can catch many blockbusters in IMAX, and the sensory overload is something the kids aren’t likely to forget in a hurry.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BRAVE THE OUTDOORS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22242″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Sometimes when the weather is bad, there’s nothing for it but to wrap up warm, get the wellies on and brave the elements! It’s unlikely that the kids will mind too much – who didn’t love splashing in puddles as a youngster, after all? Whether you live in a city and have a choice of parks to visit, or you’re in the countryside and can get to a forest or dedicated walking trail, you should have plenty of choice. Here are a few ideas:

Alternatively, head underground for an awe-inspiring visit to one of the magical caves that are dotted around the country. In many cases, these subterranean worlds lay hidden for millions of years, only to be discovered by chance in recent times. Many of them offer guided tours, often on a boat, while you can learn more about the geological processes responsible for creating the caves at their visitor centres. Some even offer kids’ parties! Here are a few of the best:

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”22247″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Kids can unleash their inner Picassos at Giddy Studios in Dundrum. They offer little ones the opportunity to paint their own pottery masterpieces – from egg cups and tiles to dinosaur ornaments and money boxes. Once painted, the pottery is glazed and fired in a kiln, and then you pick up the finished article a week later.

If you fancy combining creativity with a little bit of history, the Toy Soldier Factory in Macroom, Co. Cork lets you cast and paint your own miniature, and in this case you get to take it home on the same day. While you’re there, don’t miss their dioramas showing battle scenes from history, including the huge Battle of Waterloo showpiece that features over 15,000 figures.

Or how about rubbing shoulders with the celebs at Dublin’s National Wax Museum Plus? Recently relocated to Westmoreland St from its previous site at College Green, the museum hosts waxworks of everyone from movie stars to politicians, cartoon characters to sporting icons – not to mention the spooky Chambers of Horrors! There’s an educational aspect too, with rooms dedicated to periods of Irish history, great writers and science and discovery. It’s a well-rounded family day out.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”DON’T FORGET!” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

Take out or renew your AA Membership before you start packing the car. For just €8.25 a month, you get 24-hour breakdown cover in Ireland and the UK (meaning you can take the car to Northern Ireland in confidence), personal cover (which covers you in any car) and Home Start, which means you’re covered at your home or very near your home address.

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Categories
Europe Featured Ireland Sport and leisure

Family fun when the sun shines: the AA Roadwatch guide

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Main pic: public domain

The weather doesn’t always play ball in Ireland, but we’re bound to get at least a few sunny days in the coming weeks. When it happens, you’ll want to make the most of it. The country is full of interesting and exciting day-trip destinations to make family memories over the school holidays – here are a few ideas to get you started.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CYCLE THE GREENWAYS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22084″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Photo: public domain

Cycling with the family can be stressful – but not on the greenways. These are old railway lines that have been converted into off-road walking and cycling trails. No cars, no junctions and mostly flat terrain: a perfect summer’s day out for young or novice cyclists. You can bring your own bikes or rent them along the way, bring a picnic and enjoy the scenery of a landscape without traffic (a rare sight for us at Roadwatch!).  Each trail snakes under viaducts and through old tunnels, which the kids will love. The Great Western Greenway in Mayo passes a number of beaches and the Waterford one has two rail-themed playgrounds (one at Durrow and one at Ballinroad). Each trail is divided into one-to-two hour sections, but for younger children, your best option is to pick a short stretch of the trail starting and ending at towns that the railway used to serve.

ESSENTIAL INFO

The Great Western Greenway (42km) stretches from Newport to Achill along the Mayo coastline, off the N59, while the Great Southern Trail (40km) snakes from Rathkeale to Abbeyfeale in Limerick, just off the N21.

The Waterford Greenway (46km) travels from Waterford City to Dungarvan, and the Athlone to Mullingar Greenway (40km) does exactly what it says on the tin.

If you don’t have your own bikes, they can be rented along the way – check each trail’s website for their local providers. You can find info on all Irish greenways here.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”IMMERSE YOURSELF IN IRELAND’S HERITAGE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22123″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Photo of Kilkenny Castle by Aldebaran, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

The Office of Public Works recently made all its heritage sites free for children under 12, so why not get their imaginations going with a trip to a castle or fortress? Ireland’s history is full of rich stories that really come to life in children’s minds at heritage sites across the country. OPW sites include castles such as Donegal Castle, Kilkenny Castle and Ross Castle (Kerry), fortresses like Dún Aonghasa (Galway) and Charles Fort (Cork) and other famous historical sites including the Rock of Cashel (Tipperary), Newgrange/Brú na Bóinne (Meath) and the Glendalough Visitor Centre (Wicklow). Many sites have age-specific tours, or let you wander at your own pace. Bring a picnic on a sunny day (make sure to eat in the designated areas!) and let the little ones immerse themselves in the past.

ESSENTIAL INFO                                                                         

The OPW is in charge of a total of 780 sites, 70 of which have guided tour services. Children under 12 go free to all sites, while adult prices vary for each one.  As well as that, all sites are free for all visitors on the first Wednesday of each month.

You can learn more about all OPW heritage sites here.

Check our Routeplanner for directions to your chosen site, as well as details of any delays or traffic incidents along the way.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GO TO EXTREMES AT AN ADVENTURE PARK” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22214″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Photo: public domain

Want to have a memorable day out, pick up a new skill or two… and maybe even tire the kids out? Try one of the adventure centres around the country, where you can learn to kayak, rock-climb or shoot arrows, among other outdoor pursuits. In Lough Key Forest Park (Roscommon), check out a Segway tour through the forest or try your hand at Boda Borg – a Swedish Crystal Maze where the whole family will have to work together to solve the puzzles and overcome obstacles. Galway’s Delphi Adventure Centre and Louth’s Carlingford Adventure Centre both have a big focus on watersports, but you can also take mountain biking and bushcraft survival lessons in Delphi and climbing and ziplining in Carlingford. Meanwhile in Castlecomer Discover Park (Kilkenny), there’s a new high ropes course and boating lake.

ESSENTIAL INFO

All centres have a wide variety of activities for all age groups, from the little ones right up to the grown-ups, but it’s wise to book in advance where possible.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”SEEK THRILLS AT TAYTO PARK” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”22216″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Photo by KillianfromTaytoPark, used under CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence

Crisp-based theme parks aren’t exactly ten-a-penny, so you’re guaranteed a unique day out at Tayto Park. Ireland’s only permanent theme park is famous for its wooden rollercoaster, but there are plenty of attractions to keep the whole family entertained. Older children and adrenaline seekers will love the four themed zones with a skywalk, zipline and water rides (make sure to bring a change of clothes!). For those who are too small for rollercoasters, there are plenty of age-specific playgrounds, a dinosaur walk, mazes and live shows. There’s also a petting zoo – where pygmy goats and Highland cows wander about freely – and a larger wildlife section where you can see big cats and exotic birds. And if you’ve ever wondered how crisps are made, you can take a factory tour (weekdays only) to learn all you ever needed to know.

ESSENTIAL INFO

Tayto Park is located north of Ashbourne, just off the N2 Dublin/Monaghan Rd: turn off at the signs for Dunshaughlin and Ratoath. You can use our Routeplanner to check for any delays or incidents on your journey. Bus Éireann also run direct routes from Dublin and Drogheda (103 and 105).

Entry is from €15 per person, with all-inclusive wristbands from €28. Book in advance when you can, especially at weekends. See here for full details.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”EXPLORE THE PHOENIX PARK” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”22215″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Photo by Superchilum, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

For many children, the Phoenix Park is synonymous with Dublin Zoo, which has been delighting visitors young and old for almost two centuries. One of the world’s oldest zoos, it’s home to 400 animals from all over the world, as well playgrounds and exhibitions for all age groups. Outside the zoo, however, the Phoenix Park has enough attractions for a full week’s worth of day trips, with no two days the same. The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre has exhibits on the park’s history and runs free weekly conservation workshops for children ages 6 to 12 on Sunday mornings. At the far end of the park, Farmleigh House has a whole summer programme of free family events, ranging from puppet shows to farmers’ markets. Or for a less structured visit, just take a picnic to one of the green spaces, visit one of the many children’s playgrounds and/or get close to the park’s herd of wild deer, who normally graze near the Papal monument.

ESSENTIAL INFO

The Phoenix Park is located just north-west of Dublin city centre, with the main gates at Parkgate St (near Heuston Station) and Castleknock Rd. There are also a number of side gates. It’s worth planning your route before you head out, as it can be a very long walk from one end of the park to another.  Car parking is available at the Papal Cross, the Lord’s Walk and the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre. Dublin Bus operate a number of routes near the various gates (37, 38, 39, 46a, and 70) and the Luas Red Line stops at Heuston Station, near the Parkgate St entrance.

The Visitor Centre workshops take place each Sunday from 11am – 12pm.  Farmleigh House’s summer programme can be found here. Family tickets for Dublin Zoo start at €49 and can be pre-booked – see here.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”MEET DOMESTIC AND EXOTIC ANIMALS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”22220″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Photo: courtesy of Fota Wildlife Park

If you have animal lovers at home but you’re too far from Tayto Park or the Phoenix Park to visit their zoos, don’t fret. There are plenty of places around the country where you can meet animals of all kinds, learn about their habitats and maybe even feed them – education and fun at the same time. Fota Wildlife Park in Cork is one of Ireland’s largest visitor attractions, with animals and plants from around the world. It also runs Arts and Crafts workshops and Family Fun Days throughout the summer. In Kerry, Coolwood Wildlife Park outside Killarney is home to animals including lemurs, macaques and alpacas on a 50 acre site. Stone Hall Visitor Farm in Limerick has all of the usual farm animals, but also a few you mightn’t expect like llamas, peacocks and emus. In Galway, Turoe Pet Farm allows children to get close to rabbits, donkeys and goats, and explore a 14km nature trail. And in the east of the country, Secret Valley Wildlife in Wexford is a growing conservation park, where children can have a go at being a zookeeper for a day.

ESSENTIAL INFO

  • Fota Wildlife Park is just outside Cork City: turn off the N25 Cork/Waterford Rd at J3 Tullagreen. Family tickets start from €48.
  • Coolwood Wildlife Park is off the N72 Killarney Bypass at Coolcaslagh. Family tickets are from €30.
  • Stone Hall Visitor Farm is located in Curraghchase, approx. 20km from Limerick City off the N69 Foynes Rd. Family prices are from €35.
  • Turoe Pet Farm in Galway is not far from the M6 Dublin/Galway Rd at J16 Loughrea, with prices from €24.
  • Secret Valley Wildlife is in Clonroche, Wexford, off the N30 Enniscorthy/New Ross Rd. Family tickets start at €32.

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Check out the AA Roadwatch team’s recommendations for longer breaks within Ireland.

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